Nothing we use for a few minutes should threaten our health and pollute our future for hundreds of years.

Every day, people throw away tons of plastic “stuff” — cups, plates, bags, containers, forks, knives, straws, spoons and more. All of this waste not only clogs our landfills, trashes our parks, and litters our streets, but it also washes into our rivers and oceans, where it can harm wildlife.

It’s time to move beyond single-use plastic. We can start by getting rid of the most harmful waste, such as single-use items made out of polystyrene foam

  • <h4>We throw away millions of foam cups a year</h4><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we produce over three million tons of polystyrene every year, and Americans throw away an estimated 25 billion polystyrene cups every year, or about 82 cups per person.</p><em>Pam Walker via Shutterstock</em>
  • <h4>It’s made with harmful chemicals</h4><p>Polystyrene is made using synthetic chemicals, which may leach out if they come in contact with hot, greasy or acidic food. Yes, they keep your coffee hot — but they may also add an unwanted dose of toxins to your drink.</p><em>cyclonebill, CC-BY-SA-2.0</em>
  • <h4>It lasts for hundreds of years</h4><p>Polystyrene foam breaks apart easily, but it persists in the environment in tiny particles — and every bit of it ever made is still out there and could continue to pollute our communities and environment for hundreds of years to come.</p><em></em>
  • <h4>We don’t need it</h4><p>Plastic foam bans have passed in more than 200 cities and other communities, from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine. Some companies are also getting with the program. McDonald’s, for example, pledged to phase out foam cups and containers worldwide by the end of 2018, in favor of 100 percent recycled materials.</p><em></em>
Ban polystyrene

Scientists are still documenting the scope of plastic pollution and investigating its effects. But for decades we’ve known that one of the worst forms of plastic pollution is polystyrene foam, the kind used in foam cups and take-out containers, which most of us call Styrofoam.

Polystyrene foam is made with fossil fuels and can’t be recycled. It breaks apart easily, but it takes hundreds of years to fully degrade — which means that every piece of foam ever made is still out there and will continue to pollute our planet for hundreds of years to come. 

Skip the straw

Once found mostly in soda fountains of the 1930s, straws have become one of the most ubiquitous unnecessary products on the planet. Americans use 175 million straws daily, almost enough to circle the globe. Compounding the problem, plastic straws are small, thin and bend easily, so they fall into the cracks and crevices of recycling machinery. Therefore, most recyclers do not accept plastic straws, and most straws that do make it to a recycling facility do not get recycled.

Ban the bag

A plastic bag is used for an average of 12 minutes, but can persist in our environment, and pollute our communities, for generations. Last year, 50 percent of the bags we used ended up in landfills and 8 billion ended up in the environment. Nothing we use for a few minutes should threaten our health and pollute our future for hundreds of years. It’s time to ban the bag.

Getting beyond plastic

U.S. PIRG Education Fund is running a joint campaign with our 501(c)(4) sister organization U.S. PIRG and our state offices, as well as Environment America and its network of state environmental groups, to highlight the problems with all of this plastic “stuff.” We hope to see bans on single-use polystyrene take-out containers in 13 states and bans on single-use plastic bags in 10 states. We’re also working in seven states to make straws available by request only.

Over the years, our family of organizations has worked together to win similar efforts to reduce waste and plastic pollution. From our work on state bottle bills in Massachusetts and across the country, to implementing and defending pro-recycling laws and the first statewide plastic bag ban in California, we know how to combine professional research and advocacy with citizen support, to win real results.

Our national network is partnering with Environment America — over the years we’ve worked together to win similar efforts to reduce waste and plastic pollution. Recently California passed the first statewide plastic bag ban in the country.

Of course, there are plastics companies that don’t like this idea. In 2018, corporate opposition helped block a bill banning plastic foam containers in California. But across the country, polystyrene foam bans have passed in more than 200 cities and counties, and even some corporations such as Dunkin’ and McDonald’s have taken action on phasing out polystyrene, or hand out straws only upon request.